The Network Effect: The 2013 BCLC Corporate Responsibility Conference

Jeff Lundy, PhD, Research Manager of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, opened the Business Civic Leadership Center’s Annual Corporate Responsibility Conference with a report on obesity. I wondered how this would set the tone for a conference I expected to focus on international development and engagement.  Discussions of hunger, malnutrition, and food security seemed more appropriate for this cross-sector group gathered in Washington, DC, but I shelved a passing thought of a “Fat Chance” and made the conscious decision to embrace the unique perspective the conference was attempting to promote for its attendees.

That turned out to be the right approach. The obesity report, and the following discussion, set the tone for the the whole conference.  It introduced key  themes that would be repeated again and again over the next three days in addressing  a myriad of topics: applied technology, social innovations, sustainable packaging and recycling, job-skills training, community capacity-building, leadership development, disaster response, sustainable supply-chains, environmental restoration, and even global food sourcing.

The theme of “purposeful engagement” carried through each conversation in turn, recognizing that the path to solve the most difficult challenges of our time requires a few key steps. First, those concerned must develop a common understanding gained with and in the community in question. To develop that common understanding, a group must value curiosity first and expertise second, all while withholding moral judgment. Through such a process, mutual respect leads to mutual value, which in turns leads to mutual benefit, leading those seeking to find a solution to embrace collaboration, because no one sector can solve these challenges alone. Only after a mutual understanding has been reached, and a collaborative solution developed can the final step be achieved: Action!

Community engagement: you must be present to win

The US obesity rate is at an all-time high, a statistic most alarming for young people. In response, Campbell’s Soup Company has charged Kim Fortunato, Campbell’s Director of Healthy Communities, to address this challenge in Camden, New Jersey, where the company has an important stake, and consequently, responsibility to improve the lives of its community.  Seeking a long-term vision that delivers a scalable model, the immediate objective is to dive deeply into one community to develop a collective action and strategy, effective communications, mutually reinforcing actions, and appropriate measurement of long-term behavior change. The process—not the individual details—will be scalable across communities.

Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Yet, with this approach, the company has acknowledged that each community has its own DNA and to be sustainable, only approaches that match that DNA can succeed.  Cheryl Heller, Chair of the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts advised, “Invite people from the neighborhood.  It’s all personal.  It’s all listening.  Nothing works unless everyone gets value.”

International volunteerism or global pro bono is one strategy that Intel has employed to effectively open new markets, in part because it places employees directly into communities.  “The reality is that if you’re going to succeed in emerging markets, you’re going to have to address social challenges.  You have to recognize that this is a different time horizon—you need to work at building and fostering innovation in those economies, and that takes time,” said Michael Jacobson, Intel’s Director of Corporate Responsibility.

Curiosity before expertise: solve the right problems, in the right order

Emerging solutions—not pre-determined—have proven to be the most effective in Campbell’s “Health Communities” work.  “You have to leave your ego at the door,” said Fortunato.

Jim Coughlan, President of Customer Solutions at UPS, concurs.  Discussing the strategic partnership between UPS and CARE, to improve the efficiency and efficacy of global supply-chains in disaster relief, he said, “CARE introduced us to the magnitude of what they have to do every day.  It’s not what I thought it would be.  Don’t bring traditional solutions; be innovative and creative.”

Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Make it mutual: respect, value, benefit

“Everyone has something to offer,” said Deirdre White, CEO of PYXERA Global, formerly CDC Development Solutions.  Warmly including and appreciating diverse points of view and the experience upon which they are based builds mutual respect, and opens the door for mutual value and benefit.  Patrick Gaston, President, Western Union Foundation reflected, “There’s no magic in all of this.  All relationships require work.  It’s give and take.  You have to consider capabilities and competencies, interest, impact, experience, and personality.  As we enter into partnerships, we need to make sure the relationships are cared for and that there is a shared value proposition.  Edward Martin, Director of Mobile Marketing, The Hershey Company advised, “Presume decent intent.  Don’t dismiss a group because of their label.  In my experience, you can find common ground with the vast majority of people.”

Collaboration: no one sector can go it alone

Participants in every session emphasized the need for collaboration across public, social, and private sectors, with particular focus on the appropriate roles for businesses, governments, and NGOs.  “No longer can any of us expect the public sector to be the dominant source of philanthropy, said Scott Jackson, President and CEO of Global Impact. Janet Foutty, Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, agreed, “Government used to have the widest reach, deepest pockets and the loudest voice.  Government plays an important role, not as an ATM, but a catalyst.”  With each sector, and each organization, playing to their strengths, and in alignment with their core mission, the path to impactful, sustainable collaboration is clear.

Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce



Common understanding, mutual respect, willingness to collaborate—all of these are the essential to putting in place a solid foundation, but ultimately the intent becomes real only through action.  Jackie Montesinos Suarez, Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP North America summarized, “You can get caught up in the strategy and the vision, but until you make it tactical, nothing actually gets done.”  Suarez credited PYXERA Global for enabling the on-the-ground success of SAP’s Social Sabbatical, which doubled in size this year.   Deborah Holmes, commenting on EY’s commitment to College Mentoring for Access and Persistence (MAP), agreed. “These are real people in the program.  If you don’t focus on the details, you’ve got nothing.”

Of course it doesn’t end with action.  It all becomes a circle, with action leading to greater understanding and mutual respect, while reinforcing collaboration and a greater commitment to contribute from one’s strength.  Hugh Welsh, President of DSM North America, noted, “Everyone wants to work for more than a check, to work for more than themselves, to do more than a task.”  Heller concurred, “When you make that purpose part of your business, everything changes.”

 Feature photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Laura Asiala

Laura Asiala

Laura Asiala is the Vice President, Public Affairs at PYXERA Global. Passionate about the power of business to solve—or help solve—the world’s most intransigent problems, she leads the efforts to attract more participation of businesses to contribute to sustainable development through their people and their work. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Net Impact, a community of more than 40,000 student and professional leaders creating positive social and environmental change in the workplace.

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